As a teenager, I stumbled across a copy of Derek Lundy’s Godforsaken Sea in the back room of a used bookshop. I had never heard of the Vendée Globe and frankly found all the boat-speak in the first 50 pages a little difficult to get through. But Lundy’s storytelling and the draw of the intense race through desolate oceans quickly won me over.
It’s been 25 years since the fateful Vendée Globe chronicled in Lundy’s book, and specifically, this week marks the anniversary of two of the three “Christmas Miracles”—a series of rescues that happened in the weeks after Christmas in 1996.
The first and most famous of these was the December 26th sinking of Raphaël Dinelli’s Algimouss. The Australian Airforce found him stranded on his derelict boat, which was submerged, leaving Dinelli standing knee-deep in water. Though unable to recover him, the plane managed to drop a liferaft. Competitor Pete Goss (Aqua Quorum) was in 7th place at the time but immediately abandoned his course and made the grueling two-day upwind slog in 80mph winds to Dinelli’s last known location in hopes of saving him. Eventually, he found and rescued Dinelli, who was hypothermic but otherwise fine. Goss was later awarded the Légion d'honneur for his actions.
Then, just weeks later, Tony Bullimore (Exide Challenger) and Thierry Dubois (Amnesty International) capsized within hours of each other. Despite being closer to Antarctica than Australia, the Royal Australian Navy was able to rescue both skippers. Dubois was the farthest south the Navy had ever attempted a rescue. Tragically, a fourth disaster struck just a few weeks after that when contact with Canadian skipper Gerry Roufs was lost. He was never found, and the cause of his death remains a mystery.
Since the myriad capsizes and sinkings of the 1996-97 Vendée Globe, organizers have tried to regulate safer races. A generation later, however, we’re still telling the same stories of heroism and tragedy—like Jean le Cam’s rescue of Kevin Escoffier in the most recent edition of the Vendée Globe. In fact, in 2021 eight of the 33 boats that started did not finish, which still seems recklessly high. Then again, when compared to the 60 percent dropout rate of the 1996-97 edition, 24 percent doesn’t look that egregious. It’s all about perspective, I suppose, and that’s what keeps a book like Godforsaken Sea relevant today. It’s a timeless epic, and one that is told so richly through Lundy’s words.
If you’re going to be stuck inside weathering winter storm Izzy in the coming days, I suggest heading to the library (or the back room of your local used book shop) and picking up a copy.